Amid delays, “drugged-gambler” lawsuit keeps grinding with much at stake

April 17, 2024 7:28 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
April 17, 2024 7:28 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

Litigation and poker have much in common.

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Both are games of skill and chance that can be played for high stakes. How the cards are dealt is important, but how they’re played is fundamental. The ability to read the masked emotions of the other players at the table can make a big difference.

Having the best hand never hurts, but an element of luck also exists and a well-timed bluff can produce the desired result.

I’m reminded of the rudiments of the game as I watch the intriguing lawsuit, filed on behalf of high-rolling gambler Dwight Manley, slowly reveal itself. Manley, a southern California real estate developer and rare-coin collector, claims his cocktail was spiked with ketamine during a gambling trip to the MGM Mansions VIP casino in December 2021, where he wound up signing credit extensions on the way to losing $2 million in just a few hours.

The discovery process is ongoing and the parties are keeping their cards close. What has been made public through interrogatories suggests Manley’s side is seeking to expand the scope of its investigation, while MGM Resorts International’s lawyers have consistently retort that there’s no there there. In essence, they argue, there’s no evidence Manley was drugged at the time he was playing, drinking Old Fashioned cocktails, and signing multiple markers above his usual high-end play.

A source familiar with Manley’s style at the blackjack table reports he often plays multiple hands simultaneously and commonly wagers $25,000 on each. He’s a two-fisted blackjack player who drinks, but sources argue doesn’t use drugs.

So how did ketamine, an animal tranquilizer and popular street drug that also has prescribed medicinal uses, find its way into his system?

In October 2023, Manley shook things up a bit by offering a $500,000 reward for information leading to the culprits. At the time, a California-based attorney for Manley said he believed “that a serious criminal act was directed at him, which potentially put his life in danger. He is determined to do all he can to track down and hold accountable those responsible.”

A millionaire at 23, Manley is known as a top-tier coin collector and successful sports agent, notably for former NBA wild man Dennis Rodman. Manley is also something of a hometown hero in Brea, Calif., where he has developed a lot of real estate and improved care-worn buildings and blocks. “I’m being proactive,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2003. “I’m not just talking and hoping it will get better. In the long term, this has so much room for improvement.”

Of course, it might also be said that a man of Manley’s means can afford to post a six-figure reward or even higher, for that matter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him raise the stakes wherever possible. It seems like his style.

It also makes sense that the plaintiffs would bring the best expert witnesses and drug analysts available into the game. Someone who knows the inner workings of the company could give valuable insight when it comes to understanding its policies and procedures.

Allegations and denials aside, the issue of the drugging of customers is an ugly one that most people would agree should be taken seriously. How best to go about answering such a question is another matter.

For its part, MGM’s answer to Manley’s request for information about the possibility of others who reported to management of being drugged remains an adamant denial.

Despite the usual delays, we’re getting closer to finding out more about the meat of the plaintiff’s case being brought by Paul Hejmanowski and Charles McCrea. MGM attorneys Lawrence Semenza III and Katie Cannata would remind you that offers of rewards aren’t evidence and might even be a sign of a bluff in progress.

If only for the credibility of a highly regulated industry, not to mention the facts, the story of the allegedly drugged high roller needs to proceed with the cards on the table. Much more than one player’s fortunes are at stake.